Karl Baumann

Theme/Style – Modernism, Abstraction, still lifes, landscapes, cityscapes

Media – Oils, watercolors, ink drawings

Artistic Focus – Karl Baumann’s paintings, whether landscapes, still lifes, or pure abstraction, convey both joyfulness and tension, and display his deep interest in color and texture, as well as his sincere love of the natural world around him. His tactile, lush paint surfaces were controlled by his masterful use of design, while giving the viewer a sense of freedom and energy; and reflected Baumann’s abiding generosity as an artist, a teacher, and a human being.

Career Highlights –

• Born in Leipzig, Germany in 1911, Karl Herman Baumann developed an interest in art and nature with the encouragement of his grandfather. He was drawing from the age of five, but had no formal art instruction.
• Baumann came to the United States in 1929 at the age of 18 and settled in San Francisco, joining his father who had immigrated there before World War I. For the next 10 years Baumann worked as a commercial artist at Schmidt Lithograph, where his father, a trained engraver and embosser, was also employed.
• Baumann married Naomi Pratt around 1934, and in 1939 took a job as an easel painter for the U.S. government's Works Progress Administration (WPA), giving him the freedom to devote his energy to his own artistic development. He worked mostly in watercolors, and began experimenting with abstract and expressionist styles.
• In 1939 Baumann's first one-man show took place at the Paul Elder Gallery in San Francisco. That same year he also exhibited at San Francisco's Golden Gate International Exposition, and in 1940 he won a commission to create still life mural panels in the cocktail lounge of the S.S. President Hayes.
• During his career Baumann also exhibited at San Francisco's California Palace of the Legion of Honor and Museum of Modern Art, the Oakland Art Gallery, and nationally at New York's Museum of Modern Art, the Dayton Art Institute in Ohio, and the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C.
• From 1947 to 1952 Baumann was a professor of painting at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, and also taught at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. An influential and popular instructor, Baumann was Nathan Oliveira's first painting teacher, and introduced the concept of “Push and Pull” that became the underlying theory of the California Abstract Expressionists of the 1950s.
• Throughout his life Baumann continued to appreciate nature, filling his studio with exotic plants, rocks, wood, and shells collected on his walks through San Francisco's Golden Gate Park or on Northern California's beaches. By the 1960s his work had become more abstract, his still lifes and landscapes interpreted in more geometrical shapes.
• In the late 1970s Baumann was diagnosed with lung cancer. He undertook a radical treatment regimen and a special diet, and two years later had made a complete recovery; but the tragic death of his son in 1976 curtailed Baumann's desire to paint.
• Karl Baumann died of a heart attack in San Francisco in 1984.